A Strange Loop at The Barbican

A Strange Loop is one of those shows that I had heard a lot about yet I knew very little however the overwhelming consensus was that I needed to see it, so despite being rather late for the party I got myself along to the Barbican before the show closed.

In A Strange Loop we meet Usher, a black, queer, and in his own words…fat man trying to write a musical, which happens to be about a black, queer, fat man writing a musical. Usher however is plagued by his thoughts and we see them brought to life on stage and between the 6 performers they portray his self loathing, his sexual desires as well as real people in his life such as his parents, lovers and patrons at the Broadway show where is currently is an usher.

The show is one that is not afraid to ask questions and sometimes give the uncomfortable truth of an answer. Throughout the show themes such as black homosexuality, black familial expectations, music and religion are all explored. All weighty topics in their own right but when combined together it makes for a thought provoking and demanding evening. These themes are examined in a variety of ways, at times this is simply through Ushers own thoughts and at times we see Usher confront his demons head on. His relationship with his parents is key throughout the show and this culminates with one of the most striking, impassioned and thought provoking speeches I have heard in musical theatre. Equally Usher’s scene with a lover, packed full of racist abuse at the time where Usher is physically vulnerable is a hard yet powerful scene to watch.

A Strange Loop has a good balance of light and shade and for every moment that makes for uncomfortable watching there are other moments where comedy is key. Equally there are moments where you find yourself laughing but then stop yourself and reflect on the message behind that moment, a perfect example of just how well comedy can be used to get across a serious message.

A Strange Loop is a show that you cannot relax during, ensuring you hang off each word before you even begin to try and process the many layers within it. The music itself suits the show however due to the ferocity of the lyrics it is a show that I feel like I need to listen to the cast recording repeatedly to really appreciate the music in its own right

The cast are all superb with Kyle Birch taking on the role of Usher. He manages to convey all of the conflict and difficulties that Usher is going through without coming across as self indulgent. Throughout the show you see Usher grow and Birch’s portrayal of this growth is sensitive and nuanced.

Taking on his thoughts were Nathan Armarkwei-Laryea, Danny Bailey, Sharlene Hector, Tendai Humphrey Sitima, Yeukayi Ushe and Jean-Luke Worrell and each of them excel in their roles. Worrell in particular plays both Usher’s father and his lover at different points throughout the show and his portrayal of both of these characters, for very different reasons enrages me, indicating that he got it spot on.

The technical side of the show adds to onslaught to the brain. Starting off with simply lit doors for each Thought to appear out of but as the end of the show spirals so does the set, becoming louder and gaudier however when this causes Usher to turn his back on it all, it helps make sense and give a purpose to it all.

A Strange Loop is a show with a lot to process, with numerous hard hitting and unapologetic themes it provokes thought more than it moves but if you are looking for a show to give you food for thought then this is the perfect show for you.

A Strange Loop is on at the Barbican until 9th September so you haven’t got long left to catch it. You can buy tickets here.

If you like this review you might also like my review of F**king Men, Once On This Island (also staring Kyle Birch) and Cruise.

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